I’m looking back on the year in TV with my personal top ten of 2014. Yesterday I looked at numbers ten to seven – today here are the shows which occupy positions six, five and four on my list.
6. Homeland: Going back to its roots
Homeland‘s first season was an ambiguous yet taut espionage drama, but it lost its way in seasons two and three with the soap opera elements of the Carrie/Brody romance and the need to give his family something to do. But season four arrived with Brody dead, his family written out completely and Carrie relocated to first Afghanistan and then Pakistan.
Could Homeland work without one half of its star axis? Yes. It took a few episodes for the show to patiently re-establish its new ground rules, but when it did it provided a masterful blend of action, intrigue and misdirection to keep viewers guessing and, at times, genuinely shocked.
It’s rare for a show to reverse its decline as dramatically as this, and it made the early decision to renew the series for a fifth season seem like a no-brainer with the benefit of hindsight. I’ll admit I stuck with Homeland more in hope than expectation, but I’m glad that I did. This wasn’t as outstandingly brilliant as its first season, but it came mighty close.
5. The Flash: Hitting the ground running
Like Homeland, I started watching The Flash without any great sense of expectation, particularly after Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D‘s teething problems. But I rapidly warmed to this new version of the adventures of the fastest man alive, with Glee‘s Grant Gustin proving to be a likeable lead, aided by a supporting cast which immediately clicked into place.
Unlike S.H.I.E.L.D, Gotham or its CW stablemate Arrow, the show has a deliberately lighter tone and isn’t afraid to fully embrace its comic book origins and universe while putting a modern twist on it. As such, it successfully provides superhero thrills in a family-friendly package which is perfect for younger viewers. It’s very, very good entertainment and it’s a show that has both mainstream as well as geek appeal.
4. The Great British Bake Off: Bin-gate
Aside from a handful of World Cup games, no TV show in 2014 garnered as many viewers as the 13.5 million who watched the final of the fifth season of The Great British Bake Off, underlining the success of moving the show from BBC2 to BBC1. This most congenial and non-adversarial of reality TV competitions raised the technical bar higher than ever before, with Nancy Birtwhistle’s unerring consistency seeing off the skill and creativity of record five-time star baker Richard Burr and Luis Troyano in the final.
But this season will best be remembered for week four’s ‘Bin-gate’, which saw Ian Watters eliminated after binning his Baked Alaska, which had melted after being removed from the freezer by fellow contestant Diana Beard. This led to such a huge controversy as outraged viewers took to social media in their thousands that Beard temporarily became a hate-figure and Watters was even interviewed by the BBC’s flagship news programme Newsnight to discuss the incident.
Controversy notwithstanding, Bake Off is a very British programme tapping into a big current trend, and makes for a satisfying antidote to the trumped-up, formulaic diet of reality TV we are fed elsewhere. I’d never really watched the show before this year, and quickly fell in love with it.
Tomorrow: The top three.